Brilliant book ideas for you and yours


I’m a total sucker for a book, wrapped all beautifully and stashed under the Christmas tree.  Well, at any time of the year, really, and wrapped or not.  And I’m always keen to hear what other people recommend, so I asked Paul Wallace of David’s Bookshop in Letchworth to let me know what was flying off their shelves and into the bags of busy Christmas shoppers this month.  Here’s what he’s telling me about some of the more unusual books that are hot-hot-hot – some fiction, some non-fiction, some grown-up, some not-so.  And all of them a bit out of the ordinary….

Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting


Scandi is still so in, book-wise, and if you’re after a signed copy for something extra-special, David’s Bookshop have a few left still.  Now, if the thought of a book about how to … well, how to chop wood doesn’t exactly float your boat, have another think.  It’s part guide to best practice in chopping and stacking, part appreciation of the art of wood-cutting, and part meditation on the way we humans hang on to our instinct for survival.  Odd?  Yes.  Interesting?  Absolutely.  And, so I’m told, a perfect fireside read.

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell


And while we’re on the whole Scandi thing, The Year of Living Danishly is an account of London journo Helen Russell discovery of the joys of life in rural Denmark, the country that is statistically the happiest place on earth (forget Disneyland).  She gives herself a year to find out what makes those Danes so gosh-darn happy – and finds all sorts of things about them and about the way we live by comparison.  Great title, too, but I’m a sucker for a corny pun.

We Go To the Gallery by Miriam Elia

 miriam ellis book

You’ve seen the new Ladybird books for grown-ups, right?  Priceless parodies, combined with those gorgeous original illustrations.  The favourite at David’s?  We Go To the Gallery by Miriam Elia.  It’s not in the same series as some of the others – it’s a fair bit more grown-up than many of them, and caused a big old hoo-ha with Penguin Books when it was published.  But it’s hilarious.  Rude, caustic, irreverent.  And hilarious.

Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli


Got an armchair scientist to buy for?  How about a book that claims to offer “everything you need to know about modern physics, the universe and our place in the world in seven enlightening lessons”?  Sounds like a good deal to me, who knows nothing about physics at all, and it has the bonus of being beautifully written at the same time as shining some light on the big ideas of our universe.  Prepare to find out more about Einstein’s theory of general relativity, quantum mechanics, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, elementary particles, gravity, and the nature of the mind (phew).

Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey


Something beyond the usual gardening books this Christmas is Richard Mabey’s Cabaret of Plants – and exploration of vegetation ranging from weeds to crops, medicines to sacred plants, and having a think about why particular plants inhabit our imagination so vividly.  And he ends up thinking about the possibility of ‘plant intelligence’ – which might well change my feelings about pruning completely.

A Notable Woman by Jean Pratt, ed. Simon Garfield

 notable woman

This is the sort of book (among many others, to be fair) that I find fascinating. Simon Garfield has edited the diaries – the decades of diaries – written in in fountain pen, usually in Woolworth’s exercise books by an ‘ordinary’ woman, Jean Pratt.  She started writing in 1925, and wrote a diary for the next 60 years with her family and friends having no idea that she was writing anything at all.  It’s an ordinary life, perhaps, but then it begs the question whether any life is every merely ‘ordinary.’  Love the title for that.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

 spool of blue thread

This one’s had a lot of good press – and was shortlisted for both the 2015 Man Booker Prize and the Bailey Women’s Fiction Prize.  Anne Tyler starts with Abby Whitshank’s story of how she and Red fell in love in 1959 – spooling back through the generations of family stories and forward to the 21st century.  Sounds brilliant and detailed and a cracking good read.  (If you want me, I’ll be curled up with this and a cuppa…)

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig


Something seasonal to slip in a stocking perhaps?  A Boy Called Christmas is the story of Nikolas, an 11-year-old boy in 18th-century Finland who believes in magic – and how grows up to be someone very familiar indeed.  Expect elves and reindeer – of course – and, more surprisingly, a spot of kidnapping.  Not your usual sugary Christmas treat, mind you – a bit darker – but it sounds absolutely magical.  And the illustrations are gorgeous.  (Love a book with pictures…)

Journey by Arron Becker


And Journey just that – a book which is all about the pictures.  Very beautiful they are, too, as they follow a little girl through magical places and adventures.  There are no words at all – but the stories come to life in the gorgeous images and in the ‘reader’s’ imagination.  The little girl, our hero, first draws herself a door on her bedroom wall – then a boat, a balloon and a flying carpet to take her on her journey.  Properly sumptuous.  A real beauty.

Timeline: A Visual History of Our World by Peter Goes

 timeline visual history

A journey of a different kind – non-fiction this time – for younger readers (although I do quite fancy this one myself).  A visual history that starts with the Big Bang – and ends with the iPod and a peek into the future sounds epic, in every sense of the word.  There are dinosaurs and disasters, Vikings and Aztecs, spaceships and skyscrapers, artists and politicians, castles and yurts – and even a few dragons thrown in.  Sounds brilliant.

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